family history, History

Finding My Family


As I put the Frederick family history together, I’ve run into a few roadblocks and mysteries in y genealogy journey. As of late, I’ve been working on finding and documenting some of the extended family relationships with my great-great-grandmother Ella (Zillmer) Frederick. A photograph is at the center of my genealogy conundrum in this search.

Arthur and Ella (Zillmer) Frederick wedding, February 22, 1912, Little Falls, Monroe County, Wisconsin

The rabbit hole I went down had to do with two women that stood up in Great Grandma and Grandpa Frederick’s wedding back in 1912. I can’t remember which family gave me a copy of this photo, but I’ve had this photo for a while. I could obviously identify my great grandparents, but without any additional information, it was almost hopeless to identify the others. So this photo just went into the book and marked as the wedding photo.

All it took was a little nugget of information that fell from the sky, well, it actually came from my 3rd cousin once removed, I received copies of Great Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding announcement published in the Sparta Herald. The Monroe County Historical Society has an amazing database of family history sources–news clippings, photos, obits, birth announcements, marriages, etc. which is exactly where my cousin got the info from. Now I have the names and relationships of the people who stood up at their wedding.

Sparta Herald March 5, 1912

The tall fellow is Ella’s brother, Otto. He passed away seven months after the wedding from tuberculosis. The smaller lad is Herman Gendrich (multiple spellings). As far as I can tell, Herman is a family friend and also Arthur’s brother Henry Frederick’s brother in law–Henry is married to Herman’s sister Anna. Those two have their own mystery’s to be solved. I am going to be reaching out to other family members about them. The two women are Bertha Ninneman and Anna Stephens (alternate spellings), and they are, as the newspaper clippings reveal, cousins to Ella.

I started my search for Bertha. I know that the two are cousins, so I need to find out who the parents are. Ancestry and FamilySearch are my go-to places for this search. I started looking at the census records from the Little Falls area from 1900-1910. I did end up finding her and the whole family in the 1900 federal census, and I found an entry for Bertha as a hotel servant in Sparta in 1910. I also found the whole Ninneman family in the 1905 Wisconsin census listed in the Little Falls township. I was pretty confident this was the correct family. They were in the right place at the right time. The census record also gives an age that puts Bertha about the same age as Ella.

Sparta Herald July 21, 1931

The biggest clue was a birth record that revealed her mother’s maiden name was Krueger, which is the same as Ella’s mother–Wilhelmina (Kruger) Zillmer. Was that the connection? I am almost certain it is. I found Amelia (Krueger) Ninneman’s obit, and it says that she emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1885 and joined her sister in Janesville, Wisconsin. Wilhelmina came in 1882 and married Herman Zillmer in 1882 near Janesville. These two must be sisters.

Now that I had established the who and where of Bertha and her family were, I moved on to Anna. Her family was a little tricky. I was looking up the last name Stephens–that’s what the newspaper article said. I came up with nothing. So I tried alternate spellings, but still nothing. I can’t exactly remember how I stumbled into the name, but all of a sudden “STUEFEN” appeared in my search. I did some more searching and hit family history gold. I found her whole family, and they all lived in Little Falls at the same time as the Ninnemans and the Zillmers. Also, guess what her mother’s maiden name was–Krueger! I have not been able to find her obit, but I am looking. I am hoping that would give the details of family members and immigration.

Little Falls Township Map, Monroe, Wisconsin, 1915.
(Courtesy of Historic Map Works)

So I have essentially tied these three families together–it has to be the mothers! My latest discovery helped me graft these families to my tree. The last part of this quest was the cherry on top. I was able to put a face to the names.

I started looking at my DNA matches on ancestry. I set the filters to my father’s side and searched trees with Stuefen and Ninneman. I found a match for each and emailed the members. A gentleman from the Stuefen tree responded and said he was a descendant of one of Anna’s brothers. He gave me some background on Anna and remembers her a little–she passed away in 1977. He confirmed that she did live in the Little Falls area and was right down the road from the Zillmers. I sent him the wedding photo to identify Anna. He said he and his mother are confident that the woman on the right was Anna. He said his mother remembers her more, and that the woman in the picture looks very similar to his own daughter.

This family history mystery is on it’s way to being solved, but I do have a few more details to work out. I’ve gathered the vital information on these cousins. I found a DNA match to me that helped solidify that this is a family member and has identified the woman in the picture. Bertha Ninneman is the bridesmaid on the far left, and Anna Stuefen is second from the right. How cool is that?! Family history is addictingly fun. It’s like solving a mystery, and the mystery is your own past. This has been a brick wall for me for a year or two. There is nothing more satisfying than pushing down those walls and discovering your past.

Share a moment where you obliterated a genealogy brick wall. Who were you searching for and what discovery did you make?

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